Re: PC natives and environmental change

Tom Riley (triley@VMD.CSO.UIUC.EDU)
Fri, 12 May 1995 09:46:36 +0000

Here, Here, Jim. On the basis of my own work in the Pacific I agree with
your perceptions of Oceanic peoples and their use of resources. Just
recently we came across extinct rails and corvids in Hawaiian prehistoric
contexts that suggest that they became extinct before the presence of
Europeans in the islands. How humans interacted with these species we don't

The only message from this is that prehistoric people may have perceived
some kind of a kinship with the natural environment, but that perception
and behavior are not necessarily closely related to one another.

The Chinese have some beautiful conceptual threads about the harmonious
relationship of humans with nature. There is little or no relationship
between these intellectual threads and drastically diminishing the
diversity of flora and fauna on the naturallandscape.

It is the same with us. The problem is that our contradictions stand out
for us, and we can look to another society and not participate in the
contradictions between their conceptual and behavioral systems.


By the way, do you have a copy of your SAA paper. In my dissertation many
years ago, I suggested that the changes from large to small in the 'opihi
(an edible lympet) from the coastal site at Halawa valley, Molokai, might
have been due to overgathering and the creation of a humanly controlled
selective pressure on the lympet population. It was interesting that there
was little change in the biomass of shell, just a diminution of size and
more 'opihi. At the time there was a competing hypothesis- that there had
been a temperature change in the seawater at the surge level. 'Opihi were
sent for O18 isotope determinations that suggested that there was a cooling
in water temperature from AD600-1200, so it was unclear what lead to the
changes in size of the 'opihi. We still don't know the cause of the
diminution of 'opihi size, although DLNR (Hawaii department of Land and
Natural Resources) sponsored research shows that initial human culling of
'opihi beds will cause a quick and drastic reduction in the size of 'opihi.
The question that they explored was whether the 'opihi were being allowed
to grow to maturity and to reproduce, so that controlled harvesting would
allow the replacement of the 'opihi population. I do not know the results
or whether my size and weight ranges for shell represented mature
reproducing adults or juveniles not yet capable of reproduction. The
question remains open, for what it is worth.


Thomas J. Riley
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign